Halo 4 Is The Best Sequel In The Series
Developed for the Xbox 360 by 343 Industries
Published by Microsoft Studios
Rated M for Mature. Contains blood and violence.
The last we saw of Master Chief his creators had held a funeral for him, promising us that his journey had come to an end. New Halo games might appear, the team at Bungie explained, but they would have to star different characters and explore different stories, and while such games did arrive through Halo ODST and Halo Reach, they failed to give Microsoft the kind of sales figures they were used to. So here we are with Halo 4, with new game makers 343 Industries taking the place of the originals, and with Microsoft resurrecting Master Chief to sell games again. The unfortunate news for Bungie, Halo 4 is the best sequel in the series.
It is an incredibly well-balanced adventure, with a storyline that is thoughtful and characters you can emotionally invest in. There is a constant variety of level designs and concepts that manage to always keep the action fresh, avoiding the very grind of repeated firefights that any series, now into its eight title, should suffer. The new villains, weapons, vehicles and direction all fit perfectly into the Halo boundaries, creating an adventure that I found as exciting as the very first Halo game.
After being awakened from his peaceful slumber in outer space, Master Chief finds himself being sucked into the gravity well of a mysterious planet. There his witnesses a new villain from the Forerunner and Covenant ranks rise up to once again seek out a mythic artifact in a quest to wipe out the human race.
Here’s the thing. That’s not the story, that’s just a plotline used to kick start the action and get the universe-saving business going as usual. The real story is Cortana. We’re told that AI constructs like her can only live for seven years, and that Cortana has managed to hold on for eight. Now she hovers on the edge of destruction, suffering fits and spells of mental erosion.
The ongoing conversation between Master Chief and Cortana as to what they should do about this, both practically and emotionally, is the heart-and-soul of the game and it’s a storyline that sits at the forefront, not in the background. It gives Master Chief, who normally says very little, complexity and Cortana the emotional weight to make us care.
All of this happens with a James Bond sense of adventure, where you leap from one wild scenario to the next. One moment you’re riding atop a Mammoth Transport and making short runs in a Warthog, the next you’re flying a Pelican airship or leaping through portals with a Jetpack strapped to your back. There’s a constant and welcome switch of vehicles and tactical situations and they all work well.
The new Forerunner weapons have components that seem to levitate and assemble magnetically. They fulfill similar needs to the guns you’re familiar with, but change their rate of fire for different ranges and offer a new feel in sound and kick that makes them fun to use. I found less use for the new armor abilities that let you release autonomous hoverbots or holographic doppelgangers. These seem to be mere toys to experiment with for now.
I approached Halo 4 thinking it was unnecessary, and with the sentiment that only Bungie should have the last word on Master Chief, but in the hands of 343 Industries we’ve been given one of the best of the series and a solid argument for turning Master Chief into an action character the likes of James Bond, a timeless hero that, as long as he’s kept in the right hands, can give us an endless supply of adventure. Let’s just hope that should publisher Microsoft ever run out of right hands to place Halo into, they’ll know enough to stop.